The prospect of James Hinton (a.k.a. the Range) producing for a pop vocalist is intriguing for all the same reasons his 2013 breakthrough, Nonfiction, was: his careful, pellucid compositions are refreshingly off-trend. While electronic producers—everyone from Arca, to Sophie, to Bok Bok—have been tapped with increasing frequency for pop, rap, and R&B duties, they have opted almost exclusively for the nebulous, the veiled, and the dramatic. Hinton’s music, via its samples and tempos, brushes against rap, grime, and dance but in a comparatively tranquil manner.
Hinton finds a partner in Niia, an upwardly mobile chanteuse in the Jessie Ware mold: modern sensibility, classical execution. Before her Generation Blue EP hit late last year, her sole credit was an appearance on a 2007 Wyclef Jean track. Generation Blue vacillated between the type of pleasant indie disco you might pair with Solange (“Body”) and classicist soul ballads whose lack of imagination baffled. Breaking is a five-track EP featuring three re-workings of Generation Blue tracks and two new songs. Effusive and bright, but patient, the result of this coupling is a little odd, like someone set out to squeegee trip-hop’s windows. Hinton and Niia are functionally playing the same game as artists like Kelela and FKA twigs, but they’re more tentative, befitting two artists still feeling out a partnership.
Hinton does well here, especially considering these songs were written and produced without him. The electro bassline that he stitches to “Body” is the kind of melodic charmer you take to meet mom. The track, which features Niia’s most distinct vocal, is a clear improvement on the original, strong enough to anchor this minor, exploratory release. One minute into the second track, “Breaking”, he deploys one of those strident, staccato piano bursts that buoyed Nonfiction. This trick, which he again employs on closer “David’s House”, is like hearing the track’s heartbeat accelerate, an instant indication that things are ramping up. This is undeniably attractive music: Niia a pristine presence, Hinton seemingly incapable of producing music that doesn’t twinkle while flinging itself forward.
Still, this is a threadbare release, and the partnership falters. On “Last Man” Niia probes an old playground taunt (“Even if you were the last man on earth/ I wouldn’t try to love you”) for emotional depth and, predictably, finds little; hearing her repeat the phrase over blisters of sulking bass is faintly absurd. It’s difficult to blame Hinton, though, as Niia needs the help: she’s an indistinct presence, leaning on tropes and a needlessly breathy delivery. Even the chorus of “Body”, the finest track here, feels like an exercise in R&B madlibs: “We can be strangers/ We can be strangers in the night/ We can be lovers/ As long as you love my body right.”
Niia x The Range is a bit of a lark, both artists stepping outside their comfort zones, but only just so. The EP functions as a bit of a proof of concept for Hinton, as he proves himself capable of sliding in underneath a vocalist while retaining his sound’s character, while Niia’s contributions feel slighter. Let’s call this practice, for both of them.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/14ns5Hi